Hispanic immigrants playing more critical role in Michigan’s farm economy

When nearly 200 unaccompanied children from Central America were brought to Michigan for settlement last summer, angry protests greeted their arrival. Protesters voiced concerns about disease and gang violence, with some worrying that the newcomers would one day take employment away from job-seeking Americans.

“This places without question many Michigan families in harm’s way,” said Tom Wassa, who ran unsuccessfully for a state House seat last summer.

But a number of national and local studies show that Hispanic immigrants, many of them undocumented, play a crucial role in Michigan’s farm economy ‒ planting seeds, picking fruit, driving tractors and packaging goods. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 71 percent of crop workers surveyed nationally between 2007 and 2009 were foreign born. And that number is growing.

Meanwhile, rural populations are aging and shrinking in communities across America. As farmers in these regions become older, Latin American immigrants figure to play a larger role in the agricultural sector.

A Michigan Farm Succession Study conducted in 2012 by Michigan State University found that only 38 percent of Michigan farmers planning to retire within the next 10 years will pass their farms on to a single heir.

Statewide, noncitizen farm owners (predominantly hailing from Mexico or Central America) represent 28 percent of Michigan’s 56,000 farms, which generate annual sales of $5.8 billion. According to Ruben Martinez at the Julian Samora Research Institute, an Hispanic research center connected with MSU, Hispanic farmers are becoming involved in buying blueberry farms in southwest Michigan.

Other states are creating economic incentives to attract immigrants to rural areas. Iowa, for instance, allocated a $50,000 grant to three rural counties to help attract immigrants.

Jacob Wheeler lives in Traverse City, where he publishes the Glen Arbor Sun and Betsie Current newspapers. From 2004-2006 he lived in Guatemala, where he wrote Between Light and Shadow (2011, University of Nebraska Press), a narrative nonfiction book about the country’s adoption industry.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.